Isla Santa Cruz Things to Do

  • View from Cerro Mesa
    View from Cerro Mesa
    by MalenaN
  • View from Cerro Mesa
    View from Cerro Mesa
    by MalenaN
  • Cerro Mesa
    Cerro Mesa
    by MalenaN

Most Recent Things to Do in Isla Santa Cruz

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    Rancho El Manzanillo

    by MalenaN Written Feb 7, 2015

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    When I visited Galapagos Islands in 2011 and 2013 I had not heard of El Manzanillo. When I saw the sign along the main road across the island I asked the taxi driver what it was and he told me it was a fairly new ranch where you can see tortoises in their natural habitat. It opened in 2012.

    So, one day I decided to cycle there from Puerto Ayora. You follow the main road (mostly uphill) to the sign and then turn left into a lovely little dirt road. This road starts somewhere between the villages El Carmen and Santa Rosa. The vegetation was lush and green along the road and I did see a few tortoises walking on the road or grassing next to it, which was great.

    When I arrived to El Manzanillo there was a tour bus and a group there, but they had finished their walk and were waiting for lunch. I paid the admission $3 (August 2014) and borrowed a couple of rubber boots and set off. I didn’t see anyone else along the trails. It was just me and the tortoises! There are two small lagoons, covered with pinkish green vegetation, along the trail. In these lagoons there were White-cheeked Pintails and Common Gallinules, and the tortoises come here to drink. Other birds that I saw during my walk were Cattle Egrets, Smooth-billed Anis, Darwin Finches, a Yellow Warbler and a very quick running bird that I have got a glimpse of before, but never been able to take a photo of.

    It took me an hour to walk the trail and when I came back to the house I asked if I could buy some lunch. Luckily there was lunch left for one person and I sat down on the veranda and ate a nice lunch before leaving. Usually you need to book lunch in advance. The lunch was good and it was $12.

    When I cycled to El Manzanillo I had seen the sign to a lava tunnel near the ranch. I asked if there was light in the tunnel as I hadn’t brought my head torch. They said there was light, and I walked the path to the tunnel. Unfortunately there was no light in the tunnel, so I didn’t walk very far into the tunnel, which was a tunnel with quite low roof.

    When I arrived back to Puerto Ayora I had been away for about 6 hours.

    Lava Tunnel near Rancho El Manzanillo
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    • Hiking and Walking
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    • Eco-Tourism

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    Playa Escondida

    by MalenaN Written Feb 6, 2015

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    I went on a snorkeling tour to Isla Santa Fe and before returning to Puerto Ayora we visited Playa Escondida on Isla Santa Cruz. It is a small secluded beach, east/northeast of Puerto Ayora. Coming home I have looked on Google Earth and there I saw that it is situated near El Garrapatero. To visit Playa Escondida you must arrive from the sea.

    When I saw the rocks and breaking waves in front of the beach I didn’t think we were going to be able to go ashore, but to my surprise they had a very small inflatable boat (see photo 5) that we went ashore in. It was too small to take us all at the same time, but going twice was enough because a couple chose to stay on board.

    There were no other visitors at the beach and the beach was lovely with white sand, turquoise water and some mangroves in both ends. I didn’t bring the snorkeling equipment but took a walk on the beach and around the mangroves.

    Playa Escondida, Galapagos Islands
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    Four daytrips with bicycle (2014)

    by MalenaN Written Feb 6, 2015

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    When I visited Puerto Ayora in 2014 I made four daytrips with bicycle. One day I cycled to Rancho Chato 2 and another day to both Cerro Mesa and El Garrapatero. I also went to El Manzanillo with bicycle and to Los Gemelos.

    For three of the bicycle tours I rented a bike at Comercial Pinguino next to Hotel Darwin on Av Baltra. The bikes there were very good. You will get a lock for the bike and a helmet if you want to wear one. Once I even got a small kit with tools. The price in July/August 2014 was $10 for half a day and $15 for a full day.

    To Rancho Chato 2
    I didn’t go until the afternoon, too late. To Santa Rosa it took 1h 15min and from there, there is still quiet some distance to go. The small dirt road leading to Rancho Chato 2 is beautiful and it was much greener along the road than the previous year. Also this time I saw tortoises along that road.

    I didn’t leave Rancho Chato 2 until 17.15 to go back to Puerto Ayora and that was absolutely too late. There is a lot of uphill along the dirt road, but from Santa Rosa it is mainly downhill along the main road. After Bellavista I changed for the bicycle road they are still constructing because it started to be dark and there were no lamps on the bicycle. On the unfinished bicycle road there were rocks in the way and I also got blinded by the light of the meeting cars. The very last bit before Puerto Ayora (and the lights) I had to walk because it was too dark. That is definitely something that I don’t want to do again. Be sure to be back in town before dark!

    To Cerro Mesa and El Garrapatero
    There was a lot of uphill to Cerro Mesa. From Bellavista the road was not paved and I only saw one or two cars. It was very quiet and nice. Just as I arrived to Cerro Mesa a man arrived in a car. He told me how to go to the crater and he said he would tell me how to go to El Garrapatero when I returned from the crater and view point of Cerro Mesa. I was gone for an hour so he had left when I returned, but luckily he had put a paper with a simple map on my bike. It is not necessary to go all the way back to Bellavista, but there is a narrow dirt road between El Chamote and El Cascajo. When leaving Cerro Mesa it is not the first road to the left. There an entrance to a driveway was constructed and it said private (I have later found out that that is where the new super luxury Pikara Lodge is situated). The second road to the left is the right one (there is no sign). From the village El Cascajo it is another 7km to El Garrapatero, mostly downhill along a paved road.

    To El Manzanillo
    Rancho El Manzanillo is one of the farms where you can see tortoises. It has not been open more than a couple of years and I hadn’t visited before, so I decided to go here with bicycle one day. Somewhere between El Carmen and Santa Rosa there is a sign for El Manzanillo. From the main road a dirt road is leading down to the tortoise ranch. It was a very nice road and I saw several tortoises along the road. I took my time visiting and I also ate lunch here (they had lunch for one person because there was a group there which had just had lunch). When I came back to Puerto Ayora I had been away for 6h.

    To Los Gemelos
    Los Gemelos is situated almost in the middle of the islands and there is a long bicycle ride to go there. You cycle along the main road and it is mostly uphill. I cycled the whole way and it did not feel hard, but that was because I recently had spent a lot of time on high altitude. Unfortunately the weather was not good, it was grey and rainy. On the way back to Puerto Ayora I stopped at Rancho Fortiz. I had seen the sign along the main road I wanted to check it out. I was lucky because there was a tour group there having lunch, which meant I could buy some lunch too. This is not a tortoise ranch where you can walk around on paths to see tortoises. I also made a stop by the lava tunnels just outside Puerto Ayora.

    Road between El Chamote and El Cascajo My rental bike Road to El Garrapatero Road to El Manzanillo Road to El Manzanillo
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    • Cycling
    • National/State Park

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    Cerro Mesa – the crater

    by MalenaN Written Feb 6, 2015

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    I arrived to Cerro Mesa by bicycle. Just as I arrived to the visitor centre (which actually looks abandoned) a man in a car arrived. He told me to go to the crater first, and indicated the road, before going up on the top of the hill. The crater at Cerro Mesa is the largest crater on Isla Santa Cruz.

    It was a sunny day and the short walk to the crater was lovely. There were no other people around, but just lots of butterflies and birds; Darwin Finches, Galapagos Doves and Smooth-billed Anis. And along the small dirt road it was lush and green.

    Near the visitor centre there is a small lagoon where you can see White-cheeked Pintails, Common Gallinules, Cattle Egrets and Frigatebirds (in the air).

    Cerro Mesa ��� the crater Road to the crater Cerro Mesa ��� the crater Cerro Mesa ��� the crater Galapagos Doves
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    The view point at Cerro Mesa

    by MalenaN Written Feb 6, 2015

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    After visiting the crater at Cerro Mesa I walked up to see the view from Cerro Mesa, a flat hill with the altitude of 490 metres. There is a nice view from the top towards the coast, except a new built hotel. It is the super expensive Pakaia Lodge you can see, and one can wonder how they got the permission to build it there. Except the man at the rundown visitor centre I hadn’t seen any other people during my visit. But on the top of Cerro Mesa there were two men working on the construction of a house. I have heard that there will soon be a restaurant there.

    After admiring the view and taking some photos I walked down to the visitor centre. The man was gone. He had said he would give me directions of how to cycle to El Garrapatero when I came back, but as I took so long he had left me a simple drawn map on the bike instead. That was nice!
    Before continuing I sat down at one of the tables and ate some of my packed snacks. The visitor centre was empty and quite rundown, and the tin roof was making sounds in the wind. There were dried dead moths on the walls, but by the small pool nearby there were several cattle egrets and common gallinules, and in the air there were frigatebirds flying around, so I was not all alone.

    View from Cerro Mesa View from Cerro Mesa Cerro Mesa Cerro Mesa Road up to Cerro Mesa

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    Bahía Borrero

    by MalenaN Written Jan 26, 2015

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    Bahía Borrero is one of the small white sandy beaches on the north coast of Isla Santa Cruz. This was the last stop on a daytour I made, which had also included circling around Daphne Major and two snorkeling spots off Isla Pinzón.

    It was lovely to take a walk along the beautiful beach. There were ghost crabs on the beach, Sally lightfoot crabs on the lava rocks, pelicans plunge dived into the water after fish, there were traces of turtles walking up to the sand dunes behind the beach and I saw a Great Blue Heron.

    I also snorkeled for a while, but visibility was very poor. There were lots of small fish in the water (so I can understand the activity of the pelicans) and several white-brown fishes.

    As we arrived a small boat left and I saw a man disappearing into the bush. I thought it was fishermen, but on our boat they said the man had been left there to hunt goat. Left in the shade of the mangroves there was a dog resting.

    Bahia Borrero, Santa Cruz Bahia Borrero, Galapagos Islands Pelican at Bahia Borrero Bahia Borrero, Galapagos Islands Bahia Borrero, Isla Santa Cruz
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    El Garrapatero Beach

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 26, 2015

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    2013: El Garrapaero is a beautiful and tranquil beach about 20 km northeast of Puerto Ayora. You can take a taxi to go there or rent a bike and cycle like I did.

    I arrived early and there was no one else at the beach, not even the park ranger had arrived to his office. I put my things in the shade, under a tree and went for a walk on the beach.

    After half an hour the park ranger arrived, and a man who rented out kayaks and did some maintenance. I had to register at the office (write my name and passport number). After another half an hour a family arrived and later a few more visitors. I stayed for three hours and during that time I walked on the beach, read, walked over to the small lagoon situated 100 metres behind the beach and I also snorkeled. However, I only snorkeled for a very short time as the snorkeling was not good; there was no visibility and lots of sand in the water.
    There is a place for camping here, and beside the park rangers office there is a bathroom. You need to bring your own food and drinks, and off course you also need to bring all rubbish with you when you leave.

    While I visited I saw several different birds and they were: Brown Pelican, Yellow Warbler, Darwin Finches, Mockingbirds, Lava Gulls and a Great Egret. I also saw one Marine Iguana.

    From the parking there is a nice trail, 870 metres long. The vegetation around it consists of candelabra cactus, palo santo, leatherleaf, chala and hawthorn.

    Bicycle from Puerto Ayora:
    Follow the road from Puerto Ayora, uphill towards Bellavista. You can take this road all the way up to Bellavista and turn right there, but it is nicer to turn right onto a dirt road, about 20 minutes from Puerto Ayora. This dirt road will also take you to Bellavista. In Bellavista you shall turn right when you arrive at the school. To Bellavista it is mostly uphill, from Bellavista it is a lot of uphill and downhill, and in the end a lot of downhill. It took around 1 hour 50 minutes to cycle to El Garrapatero.
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    Update 2014: I visited El Garrapatero again, but this time I didn't arrive until the afternoon, as I had visited Cerro Mesa first. There seemed to have been quite a lot of people there as I met two groups on tour on my way there. Luckily there were no large groups on the beach when I came there, but just a few people. I cycled to El Garrapatero this time too.

    El Garrapatero, Isla Santa Cruz The path to El Garrapatero El Garrapatero, Isla Santa Cruz El Garrapatero El Garrapatero
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    • Birdwatching
    • Beaches

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    Rancho Chato 2- Tortoise Reserve

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    2013: Rancho Chato 2 is situated a few kilometers from Santa Rosa, in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz. It is a tortoise reserve and we came here on the first day of the cruise with Cachalote (Fernandina itinerary).

    Already along the road, before reaching Rancho Chato 2, we saw Giant Tortoises. The tortoises live in their natural habitat in this area and when visiting places like Rancho Chato 2 and Rancho Primicias you will come across many tortoises while walking around on the paths. The tortoises come here as there are plenty of water holes, food and areas with shade.

    At Rancho Chato 2 we saw lots of tortoises, one couple that was mating and other tortoises lying in the small pools, some were walking around and others were eating. They are amazing to watch! We visited Laguna del Chato and a couple of small lava tunnels. In one lava tunnel we saw a Barn Owl sitting in the roof. Other birds that we saw during our visit were Smooth-billed Anis, a Cattle Egret, a Moorhen, a Black-necked Stilt and White-cheeked Pintails.

    After walking around we ate a boxed lunch (not a very good one) on the porch at Rancho Chato 2 before continuing to Puerto Ayora and Charles Darwin Research Station.
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    2014: The previous year we had been the only group visiting Rancho Chato 2, but when I arrived with bicycle one afternoon in July 2014 there were six tourist buses there and lots of people around. I decided to walk to Laguna del Chato. At the house where I paid the admission ($3) I was told I would get lost, but I remembered the path from my last visit and went there. Along this trail there were luckily no other people, only me and some tortoises.

    Giant Tortoises Rancho Chato 2 Rancho Chato 2
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    • National/State Park
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    Laguna del Chato – El Chato Lagoon

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    2013:On the first day of the second cruise I did with Cachalote (this time the Fernandina itinerary), we visited the tortoise reserve El Cato 2. During our visit here we walked to Laguna del Chato which is an important lagoon for the Giant Tortoises that come here to drink.

    Around the lagoon you can usually also see some aquatic birds. We saw several White-cheeked Pintails. Sometimes you can also see Magnificent Frigatebirds coming here to wash the sea salt out of their plumage.

    Most of the lagoon is covered with a small water plant with a green-pinkish colour. It looks very beautiful with the pink colour against the green surroundings.

    If I had visited El Chato 2 on my own I would probably not have found this lagoon.
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    2014: In July 2014 I came to Laguna del Chato alone. However, I almost could not see the lagoon and its pink coloured water plants because of the tall green grass and lots of water reaching far up betwee the grass. And when I stood still, trying to take a photo I felt stings on the ankle and it turned out to be full of ants on the ground.

    Laguna del Chato El Chato Lagoon, Galapagos Islands El Chato Lagoon
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    • National/State Park
    • Eco-Tourism

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    Rancho Primicias

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    Rancho Primicias is situated in the highlands of Santa Cruz. It is a private ranch which you can visit to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoise in their natural habitat. The tortoises come here as there are plenty of water holes, food and areas with shade. There are several paths around the property and you can walk around on your own. I enjoyed my walk and saw lots of the tortoises, some resting in the waterholes, other drinking water, eating grass or just walking around. It is wonderful to see them so close! During the walk I also saw many Darwin finches and some other birds.

    After walking around I ordered an empanada de queso ($1.50) and a fruit salad ($3) and sat for a while in the restaurant. There were no other guests in the restaurant at the moment, and I had only seen a few when walking around, but I think that Rancho Primicias gets quite a lot of people sometimes. The restaurant area is large and daytrips to the highlands organized in Puerto Ayora seems to go here.

    Admission to Rancho Primicias was $3 (July 2013).
    Don’t forget to visit the nearby lava tunnel before leaving.

    I came to Primicias with bicycle, but I took the wrong road. After Santa Rosa I followed the signs and turned left into a dirt road. There was a fork in the dirt road and I followed a white sign indicating direction to a tortoise reserve and lava tunnel to the right, I didn’t see the other sign, the sign for Primicias. When I arrived to a house it turned out that I had come to Rancho Chato 2. It is another place where you can see the giant tortoises, but because I was going to Chato 2 two days later, on the first day of a cruise, I asked how to get to Primicias. To go back along the road would be 4km, but luckily a man from Chato 2 was just going along a path to Primicias. I could go with him and lead the bicycle along the path. It didn’t take very long..

    Giant Tortoises, Rancho Primicias Giant Tortoises, Rancho Primicias Giant Tortoise, Rancho Primicias Giant Tortoise, Rancho Primicias Giant Tortoise, Rancho Primicias
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    Los Gemelos

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    2013: Los Gemelos means The Twins. They are two large holes, around 30 metres deep, which were created when the roof of empty magma chambers eventually collapsed. They are situated in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz, just next to the main road that crosses the island.

    Los Gemelos are surrounded by scalesia forest and here you can find, vermilion flycatchers, Galapagos flycatchers and eight species of Darwin finches. The Scalesia (Scalesia pedunculata) is an important plant in the ecosystem of the island as it collects and traps rainwater.

    I came here on bicycle. Los Gemelos is situated 21 km from Puerto Ayora and it is mostly uphill going there. It took me around 1hour and 50 minutes. At Los Gemelos I parked the bike and then went to see the first crater. There is a short trail and a viewpoint. After that I crossed the road to see the other crater, which is the larger one, and here I found a longer trail, well not long but to the other side of the crater and with the possibility to take a trail away from the rim, through the forest. Off course I took that trail. It is a short but lovely walk through the green forest and here I saw lots of Darwin finches and Galapagos flycatchers. The sign by the car park says that the trails are 500 metres and 723 metres.

    From Los Gemelos I cycled to Rancho Primicias.
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    2014: I cycled to Los Gemelos again, but this time the weather in the highlands wasn't so nice, it was drizzly. I did see birds this year too, but there was not so many as when the weather is nice.

    Los Gemelos Scalesia forest, Isla Santa Crus Los Gemelos, Galapagos Islands
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    • Eco-Tourism

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    Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay)

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    At Tortuga Bay there is a beautiful long white sandy beach (Playa Brava). There are strong currents in the sea so this beach is not for swimming, but some people are surfing, kayaking and sunbathing. If you want to swim there is a smaller protected beach (Playa Mansa) in the end of Tortuga Bay. At Tortuga Bay you will probably see Marine Iguanas and different birds like the Brown Pelican, The Great Blue Heron and Sanderlings. You are not allowed to walk on the dunes above the beach as that is a nesting area for the marine green turtle. In the end of Tortuga Bay there is an area with lots of Opuntia cactus, a cactus that on Galapagos Islands grows like a tree.

    From Puerto Ayora there is a 2.5km long paved trail leading to Tortuga Bay. It is a beautiful walk past green vegetation, among other plants many Opuntia cactuses. You might see Ground Finches and Cactus Finches along the walk.

    At the starting point of the trail you must register at an office, and you must do so when you return too. The office is open between 6-18.
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    Update 2013: I visited in June/July again and this year the vegetation along the trail to Tortuga Bay was drier than two years previously. Probably it had rained less in 2013 than in 2011.
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    Update July/August 2014: The path in the end of Tortuga Bay, following the coast, have now been closed to protect all the marine iguanas there. I don't know if it is temporary or not. You can still visit Playa Mansa and go up on the rocks with all the Opuntia Cacti.

    Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands The trail to Tortuga Bay Opuntia cactus Marine Iguanas at Tortuga Bay Marine Iguana on the beach
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    • Beaches
    • National/State Park
    • Hiking and Walking

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    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    Las Grietas is a long fissure in the lava rock. Here freshwater filtered down from the highlands meet salty water entering from the sea, making the water in the ravine brackish. It is a very nice place for swimming and snorkelling. The water is very clear, but can be a bit cold. Some people dive or make somersaults from the high cliffs. When you swim you can continue longer than you think, but you will have to walk over a few rooks and then you can continue the swim around the corner. I think it is a very beautiful place!

    In the afternoon, I have heard, tour groups come here, so if you want tranquillity you should come early. It is easy to go here on your own from Puerto Ayora. Just take a water taxi ($0.60) from the pier over to Angemeyer Point and than follow the trail. After passing Finch Bay Hotel the trail becomes more rocky, so good shoes can be good to wear. Along the path there are several small lagoons were you might see migratory and coastal birds (for example I saw a Great Blue Heron here).

    The first time I visited Las Grietas I hadn’t brought swimwear or snorkel equipment with me, so I came back the next day. I rented the snorkel equipment at Cabo Mar, near the harbour. It was $5 (July 2011) for the whole day and the equipment was good.
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    I visited Las Grietas only once during my visit in June/July 2013. I didn't bring my camera that time as I didn't want to leave it unattended while I went swimming and snorkeling.
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    July/Agust 2014: The trail to Las Grietas from Angermeyer Point is 662 metres long. The first part is easy to walk, but after you have passed Finch Bay Hotel it becomes rockier, and here it is good to wear good shoes, not flip-flops. However, I have heard that since August 2014 the trail to Las Grietas is closed for 4-5 months. And I guess it is because they are doing the trail easier to walk.

    Along the way to Las Grietas you will pass several shallow lagoons where you might see some birds, like the Great Blue Heron or the Great Egret.

    When I visited Las Grietas in 2014 I met several large groups on my way there, and this was before lunch. So, also in the mornings there can be lots of people there.

    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands Fish at Las Grietas Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands
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    • Diving and Snorkeling
    • National/State Park

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    Wildlife at Tortuga Bay

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    You don’t need to go on an expensive cruise or daytrip to see wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. A nice and easy thing to do is to walk the trail to Tortuga Bay and walk along the beach till the end of the path. You will for sure see lots of birds and marine iguanas. I have talked to people who, when they went to Tortuga Bay, only walked the trail to the beach and then not further. They did not know what they missed!

    Along the 2.5 km long paved trail from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay it is common to see Ground Finches and Cactus Finches, Mockingbirds and Lava Lizards. I remember seeing a Galapagos Flycatcher and a Galapagos Dove here as well.

    Walking along the long white sandy beach there will be Sally Lightfoot Crabs and you will probably see some shorebirds too. In the end of the beach I have twice seen a Great Blue Heron and here there are also Marine Iguanas.

    Follow the left path along the coast to the end. Here the path turns right and there, there is a place where I both times I walked here saw lots and lots of Marine Iguanas. Last time there was so many that I couldn’t continue along the path (it makes a loop) to the small protected Playa Mansa. I had to turn around and take the other way. At this part of Tortuga Bay I also saw a Lava Lizard with a small lizard in his month and it looked like he was trying to eat it (photo 5).
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    Update July/August 2014: The path in the end of Tortuga Bay, following the coast, have now been closed. I don't know if it is temporary or not. You can still visit Playa Mansa and go up on the rocks with all the Opuntia Cacti.

    Great Blue Heron, Galapagos Islands Great Blue Heron, Galapagos Islands Marine Iguanas Marine Iguanas, Tortuga Bay Lava Lizards
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    El Mirador de los Túneles

    by MalenaN Updated Jan 25, 2015

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    When I was on my way back to Puerto Ayora after one of the daytrips on bicycle I noticed a signboard along the road, not far from the town. It was a signboard for El Mirador de los Tuúneles and the trail was not very long, so I decided to have a look.

    There are many lava tunnels on Isla Santa Cruz. This is not one of the larger ones which you can enter, well I guess you can enter, but there are no steps down to the entrance, and it doesn’t seem to be safe enough to enter. You can see the lava tunnel here because a large part of the roof has collapsed.

    According to the signpost the trail seemed to make a loop, but not many people had continued along the path continuing from the lava tunnel. I walked along the path for some time but it became more and more unclear and when I no longer could see anything resembling a path anymore I turned around and walked the same way back. I saw several Darwin Finches along the path and by the lava tunnels I saw lava lizards.
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    Update August 2104: I stopped here once again when I passed on a bicycle tour. It was now clear that the path was no longer making a loop, and I think they had made changes on the sign board and put up a stop sign (but I'm not sure I remember that correctly). This time a saw a juvenile tortoises walking on the parking lot.

    Where is the path?

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